I Don’t Want to Just Write about Characters like Me

The simplest idea for me when it comes to creating characters is that you can’t make all of them you in a fictional universe. That was a big thing that young me had to come to terms with when she first started writing. I’d say that at least the first five things I wrote (outside of school) all had main characters that were definitely me except maybe “cooler” in some ways. Sometimes I even gave them my name. I was pretty unapologetic about it.

Now, I don’t think that was necessarily a bad thing back then. I was just beginning to explore what I could do with writing, and not creating many truly original characters gave me the opportunity to explore what I could do with words in other ways. (That also happens to be part of the reason I think fanfiction is such a great way to get started with writing.)

However, it was pretty much a given that eventually I would tire of writing about myself. I finally reached a point where I wanted to write about new people who had experiences and circumstances that I didn’t. I’ve been struggling to portray those sorts of characters ever since.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still put bits and pieces of myself in some characters (or, much more likely, all of them). Ledia from The Society, to use a specific example, shares what I view as my second worst trait. (I’ll just leave you guessing instead of saying what that is.) On the other hand, I gave Devon, a character from The Society who you will meet in a later character interview, the exact same sort of interests and hobbies as myself. Then there’s Greta. She’s one of those characters where not even I can really pinpoint something about her that’s like me, but I’m sure that something worked its way in there somewhere.

That doesn’t change that fact that all three of those characters are entirely unlike me at the exact same time. Ledia is an immigrant, and I’ve been doing quite a lot of research in order to portray that as well as I possibly can. English isn’t her first language, but she’s a perfectionist type who would study it as hard as she possibly could and have a lot of determination to speak just like a native. As someone who has experience learning other languages but is a native English speaker, I have to try to imagine what that means for her speech patterns as best as I can even though I’ll never be in that exact situation. And even if I get to visit Georgia (which I have hopes to be able to do eventually), I can’t go back in time and be born there, so I can’t possibly have the same experiences of it as Ledia.

As far as the rest of the characters are concerned: Emily is black. Greta’s asexual. Devon’s a second-generation American. Layton was raised in a wealthy family. Huritt’s father is verbally and emotionally abusive. Miles is truly a jerk.

That’s only listing one of the multiple ways each of those characters is different from me, and I’m not even bringing in the magical elements that make these characters unlike anyone in the “real” world. Most of my characters aren’t technically even “human.”

So how do I make sure that I’m accurately portraying these characters that have lives so unlike my own experiences? I’m still trying to figure that out, and I’m not sure it’ll ever be perfect. All I can do is try as hard as I can. Because my only other option is to keep writing about people just like me, and that would be boring.

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